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Developer: Nintendo | Publisher:
Players: | Release Date: 05/12/17 | Genre: Hardware

I remember how excited I was when the GBA was released. This was the next generation handheld that could provide us with SNES quality gaming on the go. The first title I ever plugged into the system was Castlevania Circle of the Moon. While I tried to progress and ultimately beat the game, I gave up because the screen was so hard to see. The only way I could play it is if I used a worm light, which was bad on my eyes and put a glare on the middle of the screen, or if I positioned the system underneath a good lighting source "just right." The lighting problem caused me to spend a lot less time with the system than I anticipated.

After giving up on finding an adequate light source for the GBA, I found the Afterburner from Triton Labs. Following this project closely, I waited in anticipation for the add-on kit to be released. Once it was, I sent off my GBA to have it installed professionally for myself and got a second unit installed with an Afterburner too. Once I had the Afterburner equipped GBA in my hand, a whole new world was opened to me. Finally able to see the system, I began playing it daily. Although it made the batteries go down slightly, since I could actually play in complete darkness and play my portable system anywhere I wanted, it didn't matter. Normally, I got at least 10 hours of gameplay per set of batteries using the light all the time.

When Nintendo announced the GBA SP, I was excited. A lot of people were upset because they had just bought a GBA a few months prior to the announcement, had an Afterburner installed, or didn't want to spend another hundred dollars for something that should have been included in the first system. Before I tell you any more about the GBA SP, if you have a problem with spending money on an improved GBA system and already have a GBA, go buy the Afterburner or Halo kit and modify your GBA so you can enjoy the lighting benefits these kits offer. However, if you want quality, you need to fork over the cash for the GBA SP.

The GBA SP is tiny. When closed, the system is about half the size of the current GBA model. While it is almost as long as the GBA when opened, because of the design of the new system, it is very light. Since I have begun to play exclusively on the GBA SP now, my hands never get tired and I haven't had any problems reaching any of the buttons due to the smaller design. I may not have the largest hands in the world, but they are pretty big. While it may appear at first glance to be harder to use, it really isn't.

While I would have loved to see Nintendo go ahead and introduce a slightly better processor in the system and include more buttons, the GBA SP has all of the normal GBA hardware underneath its new body. This includes the smaller L and R shoulder buttons, a new style D-Pad, which is far superior to the older GBA style, and A and B buttons. I want to address complaints I have heard people bring up about the shoulder buttons. I have had absolutely no problem using these smaller buttons. While I had some concerns with them when I first saw the product, they are quite easy to hit. The D-Pad is made of a different material. While I wouldn't call it "gummy" it is softer and easier on your thumbs to use. You will also hear a slight clicking sound when using the D-Pad. The A and B buttons are identical to what is on the standard GBA.

One of the big improvements to the system is the inclusion of a rechargeable battery. This is a good and bad thing however. The good is that you can have about 18 hours of gameplay without the internal light turned on all the time and around 10 hours of gameplay with the light turned on all the time. With the included AC Adapter, it will only take you 3 hours to completely recharge a dead battery. Not bad at all. While a longer lasting battery would have been nice, it would have raised the final cost of the unit. The problem with the battery is that you can't swap out battery units without charging the new one in the system for three hours. Nintendo sells replacement batteries on their web site. But there is a potential problem for users who play on an airplane or are on a long trip and run out of battery power. Until another sort of power adapter is released I see this as a issue for the unit. I am sure some third parties will correct this in the months ahead.

After getting the GBA SP, you may notice a key component missing that has been in place since the very first system was released. There is no headphone jack. For some unknown reason, Nintendo decided that they just couldn't squeeze room with their design to add the small headphone jack to their unit. As much as I hate the fact I can't change batteries and that the system could potentially be unusable if you can't get to a place to recharge it, how am I supposed to enjoy my games in public with the tiny mono speaker? What if people around me don't to hear it? And how can I listen to stereo quality sound and music without my headphones? Nintendo's answer is an adapter you can buy for about five bucks. However, this leads to a few other questions. If it is so inexpensive, why would Nintendo force us to buy it? And even if you want to buy it, nobody has them in stock--not even at They are "Coming Soon." Even after you get your hands on the adapter, depending on what ports you are using up, you may not have an option to use headphones. This seems like a big flaw in an otherwise great handheld.

Those who have gone blind trying to see their Game Boy will finally be pleased to know the internal front-light for the GBA is great. When you first turn on the GBA SP, the light will come on automatically. To turn it on and off, you just hit a little button right below the screen. In a side by side comparison with the GBA with an Afterburner, the SP was clearer, brighter, and looked much better overall. Comparing the GBA screen with the SP's screen with the light off also showed similar results. While you need to use the internal lighting feature in a lot of cases, when there is enough light to game with, my comparison found the GBA SP much easier to see and play on than the standard GBA.

If you are concerned that your accessories, like the e-Reader and the GBA to GCN link cable, won't work on the GBA SP, fear not. I have tested these two accessories and they work great.

Overall, this is the best handheld gaming system to date. While I am slightly annoyed with the inability to change the battery and even more annoyed by the lack of headphones, this is still a step in the right direction for Nintendo. Hopefully the next incarnation of the Game Boy, whether it is an upgrade to the GBA SP or an entirely new 32 bit handheld, will resolve these annoyances. But don't let these two small complaints stop you from getting the GBA SP. If you enjoy gaming on the go, this is a must purchase. Even if you already have a GBA with an Afterburner or Halo, this product is worth every penny.

By Kaleb Rutherford - 03/28/03

Screenshots for GBA SP

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